What motivates me, and what I feel like God has put me in the local church to do, is to equip and empower everyday volunteers to be the real kids’ and student ministries’ pastors.
Ephesians 4:11 says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and the teachers to equip His people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.” You and I have been given to our church communities to equip an army of lay children’s and student pastors so that the body of Christ may be built up.
I want to encourage you, because I’ve seen these practices work in a church of 25,000, in a church of 2,500, and a church of 250. These are things that are timeless, applicable, transferrable – they work in any size church and any size volunteer team that you have.
The more questions you ask, the better you can plan and prepare for the final destination. There’s always going to be unknowns, but when we ask smart questions and when we trust the person whose hands we’re in, we’re able to move forward confidently. We, as leaders, need to be able to answer questions and communicate to our volunteers where we are going, so they can move forward confidently together.
- A healthy kids and student ministry team requires a clear mission, a clear vision, and clear values.
Jesus provided his disciples with a clear vision. When he recruited them, he said, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He didn’t give them all the details. He didn’t really give them any details. He gave them just enough for them to be able to hold onto when things got rough.
We have to ask ourselves a couple of questions about where our ministry is going so that we can communicate it to our team. We might know where we’re going, but we have to be able to communicate it to those who are following us.
A clear mission statement creates unity. Paul writes in the Bible, “then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another and working together with one heart and purpose.”
A clear mission statement provides a clear vision for volunteers to commit to. We’re competing with all different kinds of commitments. We’re competing with gym commitments. We’re competing with soccer commitments, with baseball team commitments. We’re competing with Netflix binge commitments. Everyone is committed to something. What makes your thing worth committing to? Where there is no vision, the people perish. If we say we’re caring for and loving on our volunteer team, we have to be clear.
A clear mission statement defines a win for your volunteers. Have you ever had a Sunday where you thought, “What just happened? Well, at least no one got hurt, so I guess it was a good day.” It’s my job as the leader to define what a win is for our teams so that each volunteer can leave Sunday, knowing that they hit the target. We define a win by our mission statement and our vision statement. What we value is important in getting us to our goal because when values are clear, decisions are easy.
A clear mission statement lets volunteers know where they’re headed as a team, a clear vision statement lets them know what the destination looks like, and clear values help them make the right decisions to get to the final destination.
- A healthy kids and student ministry volunteer team requires building your team through a healthy enlistment strategy.
Pray. “He said to his disciples, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. Pray to the Lord, who is in charge of the harvest, and ask him to send more workers into his field.” There’s something about praying for those volunteers that we need specifically. What is one area where you need a volunteer? What would that person look like? Would it be a details person? Would it be a fun person? Would it be a really warm person? Would it be a really energetic person? Pray for that.
Reframe your thinking. God has given every believer gifts, and he commands them to use the gifts to serve each other. I have to reframe my thinking to see that I get to help people discover those gifts, and I get to see them get the blessings that come when they use those gifts. I get to see people experience joy when they impact a child’s life.
Don’t say no for people. If we don’t ask people because we’re afraid too, we’re saying no for them.
Don’t assume people are too busy. I served at one church where the children’s pastor’s wife attended for a couple of years before she started to serve. Another woman on staff was the one who went up to her and said, “Hey, would you like to join the four-year-olds team?” And then she said, “of course,” and she came and started serving. I thought, “Okay, if the children’s pastor’s wife has to be asked to serve, then who else out there is just waiting for someone to come up and ask them to serve?”
Be intentional about recruiting men. A healthy team needs a balance of men and women to effectively lead kids towards spiritual health. Be actively looking at your recruitment material, your flyers, your signage, and ask yourself, “Is this appealing to men?” If your church has some kind of serving opportunities fair, make sure that, if possible, you have men there asking people to serve. We need a balanced team of both men and women to effectively reach kids for Christ.
Enlist student leaders. They go to school all day; they are professional learners. They’re some of the most willing, some of the most humble, and to be honest, they’re the most influential people in the classroom. They’re not just bodies in the classroom, but they’re the ones who keep kids coming back. Student leaders are the secret to having a great children’s ministry.
Don’t lead with the need. It’s so easy to say, “Hey, we really need someone to serve at this time. Could you come do it?” It’s true, and it’s urgent, but it’s not going to keep people serving for the long haul. No one wants to jump on a sinking ship. So, if you say, “We really need people,” people don’t want to join.
Get to know the people that you’re recruiting face to face and help them discover where they can use their gifts and talents to make an impact. Yes, we all need bodies in the classrooms. We just don’t need to lead our act with that.
Empower your current volunteers to be the recruiters.
- Developing a healthy kids and student ministry volunteer team requires you to equip and build your team through a detailed personal and encouraging onboarding process.
It creates safety for both your children and your volunteers. We don’t want just to keep the kids safe; we want to keep the volunteers safe as well.
It provides a place for members of your church to be seen and known.
It helps members of your church discover their gifts and where to use them.
It sets new volunteers up to win.
It gives you an opportunity to communicate clear expectations.
It connects volunteers with a volunteer community.
- Developing a healthy kids and student ministry volunteer team requires you to equip and empower your team through ongoing prep tools and skill development.
It’s our job to give our volunteers the tools that they need to succeed in their ministry role.
We provide clear role descriptions.
We provide offsite prep tools. We want to teach our volunteers to put the ‘pre’ in prepare and take time that week to learn the lesson. There are so many things that we don’t expect to happen. There are so many surprises on Sundays. Don’t have what you’re teaching be one of those surprises. Come knowing what you are going to teach.
Develop their skills. The Bible says that David led with the pure heart and skillful hands, so we want to prep our volunteers to serve with skillful hands.
Use a curriculum that makes teaching easy. The curriculum isn’t the be all end all. It’s a tool that helps your volunteers to connect kids to God and others. When choosing a curriculum, ask, “Hey, is this helping my volunteers each week?”
Do a pre-service huddle. Huddle the whole team before each service, pray, share any safety announcements or tips for the day, and encourage and celebrate people.
- A healthy volunteer team requires care and community.
We have to be diligent about caring for them and thanking them. Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Simple connects with them during the week. It’s okay on Sundays to say, “Hey, I’d love to hear more about this. Can I follow up with you during the week?”
Monthly prayer cards. Have the team fill those out, and have the staff pray for them during the week.
Team hangouts. A recent Harvard study shows research on how exhaustion is being linked to loneliness. And when people say that they’re burnt out, they aren’t actually burnt out. They’re lonely because loneliness manifests itself in exhaustion. So, our volunteers need community. It might not happen over a game night right away, but it’s a step. Be providing that community for them.